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Demag Cranes and Components has installed a specialist bale handling crane system at Drax Power’s new biomass processing facility in Goole, East Riding of Yorkshire.

The prototype plant has been established to process wheat, barley and rape straw, which are by-products from arable farming in the region.

The plant processes straw, which is a recognised biomass material, into fuel pellets for co-firing with coal – as part of Drax’s carbon emissions reduction programme – at the company’s power station, located three miles from the biomass processing facility.

To meet the specific materials-handling requirements of the pellet production process, Demag installed a 29m-span, double-girder, automatic crane system, rated at 22 tonnes SWL.

Mounted on the crane is a specialist 12-tonne bale handling grab unit.

The 24-hour production process involves the receipt of up to 400 tonnes of raw straw delivered to the plant each day.

Bales are unloaded from delivery lorries by the Demag crane, with operator control via a remote-controlled joystick.

The system unloads 12 straw bales, with a total weight of eight tonnes, per lift.

Once unloaded, sensors check the bales to ensure moisture levels are within preset tolerances and, if accepted, the crane switches to automatic mode and deposits the bales within the 1,700m2 storage area to a positioning accuracy of 15mm.

The crane system also automatically lifts and moves straw bales from the storage area to the pellet production conveyor when sensors indicate that replenishment is necessary.

Drax’s decision to specify the Demag system followed a visit by Drax personnel to a similar Demag installation at a biomass processing facility in Denmark.

The Drax Power Station is a large, efficient coal-fired facility in the UK.

With an output of 4,000MW, the station meets approximately seven per cent of the UK’s demand for electricity.

The planned annual production of 100,000 tonnes of straw pellets at the Goole plant will replace around 60,000 tonnes of coal used in the power generation process and reduce annual CO2 emissions by about 120,000 tonnes.

Drax already has plans to develop further pellet plants, increasing its capacity for the production of locally sourced biomass pellets.

The company has set an overall target of producing 12.5 per cent of its output from renewable and sustainable products by mid-2010, reducing CO2 emissions by more than 2.5 million tonnes annually.

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